Audi A5 RS5 10 on
In 1984 Audi launched the Audi Sport Quattro - a landmark car - and then ten years later the German car maker introduced the first of the RS sporting variants in the form of the RS2. In 2000 the RS4 Avant broke cover and, once again, it stole the hearts of the British performance car buyers. With 380bhp under the bonnet it took the likes of the BMW M3 head-on - it was handbags at dawn in the German car industry. The RS4 Saloon and Cabriolet versions followed five years later, then the monstrous 580bhp RS6 arrived in 2008. The RS has started to become a brand within a brand. Now Audi's done it again with the introduction of the RS5. This time there's 450bhp under the bonnet, which makes this coupe brutishly fast even when it is compared to a standard TT for example. If you want to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time you'll not go far wrong, but is there poise to go with all this power? Read on to find out?
This is a £50k+ car, which means plenty of kit. Standard equipment includes climate control, cruise control, 19-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, cornering lights, automatic beam-change, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, parking assist with reversing camera displays. The audio system features a card reader, an aux-in port, DAB radio, a 6.5-inch colour monitor and eight speakers. There's also Bluetooth and an interface for full iPod integration. The top-of-the-line MMI navigation has a seven-inch, high-resolution color monitor that shows navigation maps as either conventional 2D graphics or in 3D. You can upgrade to get an analogue/digital TV tuner and a luxury Bang & Olufsen sound system with ten channels and 14 speakers.
It's fast when compared to its nearest rivals: it equals the BMW M3 in terms of outright performance but is pipped, slightly, by the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Under the bonnet of the RS5 lies a 450bhp 4.2-litre V8 engine that propels the car from 0-60mph in 4.6s, the same as the BMW but 0.1s slower than the Merc. In terms of pulling power the Merc holds all the cards though: the Audi has 430Nm of torque, the BMW 400Nm and the Merc delivers a quite preposterous 600Nm. The four-wheel-drive Audi's power delivery is more controllable than that on the rear-wheel-drive 6.2-litre Merc and is much more manageable on the road. The RS engine is mated to a seven-speed S-tronic gearbox that you can leave in auto or, if you want you can select the manual mode that allows you to change gear using the paddles on the steering column or the gearlever on the central tunnel. For best results you need to use manual mode with the paddles.
The RS5 has huge amounts of grip, even in the wet, and is much less tail-happy than both the unruly Merc and the less boisterous BMW. The response on turn-in is fantastic and that's helped by sharp, dependable steering. You can manhandle this car and it takes a really heavy right foot to get out of shape on a twisty road. The purist might say it's a little too controlled, but the reality is, this is a car that's beautifully balanced. The suspension is stiff, which means minimal body roll but a rather stiff ride. There's four driver settings - auto, comfort, dynamic and personal - and they adjust throttle, gears and steering response as well as the suspension. Auto is for everyday use around town, comfort is best for motorway cruising, dynamic is for quick driving and personal means you can adjust your own settings to suit. Only a really committed driver would use personal and the difference between comfort and auto is minimal. We found ourselves mostly alternating between comfort and dynamic. Brakes offer excellent stopping power but they are still progressive. There is one minor problem with the S-tronic automatic transmission. Audi has included a system that apes heel-and-toe change-downs, but they can be a little jerky and give the feeling that the car is driving you, rather than you driving the car.
The low-speed ride in dynamic mode is pretty unbearable but you start to lose that hard bounciness when you get over 50mph. On the motorway the only option is to stick the RS5 in comfort - we defy anyone to put up with that after 30 minutes' driving. Thankfully, the well-bolstered seats do half the job of absorbing the bumps but during our test on lumpy rural UK roads we spent a lot of time being jostled about. Audi has done well to iron out road and wind noise without insulating so much that you can't hear what is a truly fantastic-sounding engine. Audi engineers have included an 'overun' exhaust sound when the auto is changing down and it never fails to bring a smile to your face. In the rear, passengers might find their headroom compromised and really, there's not enough legroom in there either.